AIUDF's court offensive against NewsX

BY SUBIR BHAUMIK| IN Media Practice | 17/11/2014
By filing 22 defamation cases against the news channel in 22 districts, for linking it with jihadi activities, the AIUDF is countering what it calls media terror with its own legal terror,
says SUBIR BHAUMIK (Pix: Maulana Badruddin Ajmal).
Does water flow up the hill or down from it, asked Assam's minority leader and perfume baron Maulana Badruddin Ajmal as his supporters crowded district courts across Assam to sue English TV channel NewsX for a report linking his party, the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) to jihadi activities.  
 
The October 27-28 story cited a so-called report by the Intelligence Bureau that the AIUDF had sent youths from Assam to Bangladesh for jihadi training. 
 
"When all jihadis are fleeing Bangladesh in face of a determined crackdown on them by the Hasina government, my party has been accused of sending boys for jihadi training to Bangladesh," Ajmal told this writer in a recent interview after the NewsX report. 
 
Ajmal was referring to the recent probe by the National Investigation Agency into the October 2 accidental explosions in a house in West Bengal's Burdwan district that has apparently blown the lid off a huge jihadi network across India with West Bengal as the hub. 
 
"When such a wide network can be set up in India by jihadis, why should anyone go to Bangladesh for training?" asked Ajmal. 
 
Terrorism experts agree with him. "It stands to reason that no Indian Muslim will now go to Bangladesh for jihadi training when it is so difficult for homegrown jihadis to survive there," said former IB official Subir Dutta. "It was different in Khaleda Zia's time when Islamic radicals and Northeast Indian rebels had a free run in Bangladesh." 
 
Retired BSF official Samir Mitra agreed: "It is West Bengal and not Bangladesh which is becoming the hub of Islamic radicalism. It makes much more sense for an Assamese Muslim to come to West Bengal for jihadi training than go to Bangladesh where he risks immediate detection and arrest.”  
 
The NewsX report said one group of Muslim youths recruited by the AIUDF had already been trained in Bangladesh after they reached Rangpur through Sukchar in Dhubri district and that another group was waiting to be sent.
 
The story was picked up by scores of local TV channels and newspapers. Ajmal blamed the report on a 'saffron conspiracy', accusing Hindutva elements in Assam of becoming worried about his party’s rising influence in the state. The Bajrang Dal and other Hindutva groups responded to the NewsX report with calls for Ajmal's arrest. Assamese regional groups such as the All Assam Students Union made similar demands. 
 
Ajmal also travelled to Delhi with a delegation of his party leaders, MPs and legislators to meet ministers and Vice President Hamid Ansari.
 
Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi, who has not been on the best of terms with Ajmal, nonetheless denied any knowledge of Ajmal's jihadi links. "The state agencies have no report about AIUDF sending Muslims from the state for jihadi training," he said in a move which some ascribed to an attempt to win Ajmal back to the Congress with an eye on the 2016 state elections. 
 
Ajmal’s supporters have responded to what they call ‘media terror’ by filing 22 criminal cases of defamation against NewsX officials in as many districts of Assam so far, until the filing of this report.
 
A complainant in the case, advocate Masud Akhtar Zaman, who is also the party’s spokesperson in the Dhubri district unit, has said that the party will also file a ‘money suit’ against the channel soon in addition to filing cases in West Bengal where the AIUDF has some presence.
 
Senior party leader Hafiuz Bashir Qasimi says the AIUDF is a legally constituted party with full faith in the Indian constitution.
 
"We started off as a party aiming to defend minority rights in Assam but we are now graduating to a position where we have become the state's most important secular democratic platform. Our success worries our enemies,” said Qasimi.
 
This, he said, is why the party will fight in the courts rather than taking the law into its own hands, as many parties and groups in Assam are wont to do. 
 
The plan is unique: drag top NewsX executives and anchors around different courts in Assam and turn each appearance into a local media event. 
 
What Ajmal will not do, however, is sue the local channels and newspapers for carrying the NewsX report. "If we win the battle against NewsX, our point will be proved," said Ajmal confidante A. S. Tapader.
 
NewsX insists they have nothing against Ajmal  and have carried his version rubbishing the report – but insist they were right to raise the issue  because it involves national security. 
 
The question is whether they can prove the genuineness of the Intelligence Bureau report as the agency’s detectives are in the habit of circulating unsigned reports, minus the file number, when leaking them. If NewsX have a copy of the report with the appropriate seal and stamp, they may end up dragging the IB into the court battle. 
 
The Ajmal camp will not settle for anything less than an unconditional apology. The legal battle may prove to be long and messy. 
 
(Subir Bhaumik, a former BBC correspondent and founder editor of the now defunct "Seven Sisters Post", is currently senior editor with the Dhaka-based bdnews24.com. He is author of two books on North East India -- "Insurgent Crossfire" and "Troubled Periphery".)
 
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